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Group holding vigil to remember victims of prostitution-related violence

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A local social services agency will hold a candlelight vigil Tuesday night to remember women killed while involved in prostitution.

Breaking Free, a St. Paul-based agency serving women in prostitution, has organized the event for the past six years.

About 30 women who accessed services from Breaking Free have been killed over the past 15 years, said Vednita Carter, the agency's executive director.

Carter recounted the story of one of the murdered women, whose mother had also been involved in prostitution.  When the woman was 12 years old, she found her mother dead on the living room couch, Carter said. Although her murder was never solved, Carter said family members believed that a pimp was involved.

After her mother died, the girl moved in with her father, who sold her to a drug dealer. The dealer prostituted her in the Twin Cities. 

Although Breaking Free worked with the woman and helped her find an apartment, Carter said that the woman struggled with drug addiction, and returned to prostitution.

"I remember the woman telling me that, 'I don't ever want to be found like that. I don't ever want to be found dead like my mom was,'" she said.

About eight years ago, the woman was shot in the head, and found nude in St. Paul, Carter said. The killer was never found. 

"She really was a beautiful woman, and she had a lot of heart and a lot of love," she said. "And we don't oftentimes get to know people, our women who have been involved in the life, in that way, because all we can remember, all we know of them is, 'Oh, she was in that life, and she probably wasn't worth remembering.'"

The event will also honor deceased St. Paul Police Sergeant Jerry Vick for his efforts to help women engaged in prostitution. Vick was killed while working undercover in 2005.

Carter said Vick often brought women to Breaking Free instead of jail. He also worked closely with the agency to provide resources to prostituted women. 

"It rubbed off on other officers," Carter said. "Now there are more officers that are beginning to really understand and to get this in the way he did, but there will never be another Jerry."

The event will start at 6 p.m. at Breaking Free, at 770 University Ave., in St. Paul. Organizers say the event will begin with a short, peaceful protest down the street, in cooperation with the St. Paul Police. 

Participants will return to Breaking Free for the vigil. Several guest speakers, including members of Vick's family, will talk briefly. The speeches will be followed by an open mic session for prostitution survivors to tell their stories.